How many times a day do you find yourself apologizing for something? You run into another shopper’s cart at the store: “sorry!” You accidentally step on your kid’s toe: “sorry!” You forgot to do something that someone had asked you to do: “I’m really sorry!” Apologies are a necessary part of our daily lives, assuming we’re not jerks. (Some days, I realize, that may be a big assumption. I mean, we all have those days!) The words “I’m sorry” can quickly put us back in good graces with the one we wronged.
Usually, when we apologize for something, that is the end of it. We don’t spend much time or energy beating ourselves up for the wrong we did. This is one way of looking at regret.
A recent example of regret from my life: last week I went to pick up my friends’ kid to take him with us on an adventure. I pulled in his driveway, came to a complete stop (thankfully) and then somehow got out of the car without ever putting it in park. As I watched in horror, completely befuddled as to why my car was moving without my being in it, it rolled right into the car parked on the driveway in front of me! Thankfully, no one was hurt and no real damage was done, but I definitely regret my absentmindedness in that moment. And while I spent several minutes lecturing my own stupidity, it’s done and over and in the past, and I am in no way still carrying it around (except for making myself the butt of a few jokes with my friends!)
To me, remorse carries a bit more weight, as does the offense, usually. Remorse is a cloak of guilt carried by the offender. If I ran over a squirrel with my car, leaving it dead in the road, I would regret that I hit him (and probably regret that he didn’t run faster!). If I accidentally ran over a small child crossing the road, I would feel great guilt and remorse for a long time to come.
Our sin is a great offense to God. It cost Him His Son. Freedom isn’t free, and neither is forgiveness. It cost Christ greatly! In our humanness, we often feel remorse for our sin. This is good -we should be sorry for our sin for sure! But unfortunately, remorse brings with it guilt. A weight we don’t need to bear. In our remorse we say, “I’m sorry God! I will try harder! I will do better! I promise!” But the problem comes in that it puts all of the responsibility on us and our flawed efforts. “If I just try harder, if I just discipline myself more, if I just…” God offers a better way.
Repentance is a turning away from our sin and turning towards God. But it is God who draws us to Himself and we must realize who we are before Him.
Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing far off , would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you this man went to his house justified, rather than the other. (Luke 18:10-14 ESV)
In order to truly repent, we must be humble. Unlike remorse, which says, “I’ll try harder. I’ll do better,” repentance says, “We both know who I am and I cannot escape this sin apart from Your working in my life. Help me to remain humble and soft in Your hands as You help me overcome this sin.” And in doing this, we can skip the guilt and walk in the freedom of His forgiveness. He doesn’t wait until we are perfect to forgive us (thank goodness!). He desires to use us and our stories, both the good and the bad, for His glory. And we’re awfully hard to use if we’re walking around wearing a straightjacket of guilt (which the enemy so loves to clothe us in!)
Life’s too short, and our mission too important, to allow ourselves to be burdened by the guilt of our sin. Walk in the freedom of repentance that only God can give!